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Volume 45, Number 2
1 August 2014
Judith Sudilovsky

Sister Muna Totah, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, treats Karim Nofal, 15, of Gaza, at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem on 30 July. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)

With close to a quarter of a million Palestinians rendered homeless by the continuing and intensifying fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, the Coordinating Catholic Aid Organizations met three times in as many days to organize action to confront the humanitarian crisis.

In addition to the current material needs — food, water, personal hygiene items, medicine and diesel fuel for generators — the Catholic aid associations from the Holy Land, U.S. and Europe are beginning to plan for the psychosocial needs of Gazans at the eventual end to the confrontation.

“We are talking about a massive number of people who will be in need of help, and of at least 200,000 children who will need intervention,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director of the Jerusalem Office of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

CNEWA ran such a program after the Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2012, he said.

In addition, he said, lack of drinking water has become a critical issue with the bombing of Gaza’s only electrical power plant, which has left the area largely without electricity for pumping water and sewage treatment. Diesel fuel is urgently needed for generators while milk for young children is also in short supply, he said.

CNEWA had been supplying the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital with fuel for the generator for intermittent power outages, but after the attack on the power plant in late July, the hospital was left without any fuel and had to shut down all operations, said El-Yousef, who received a phone call from the hospital in the middle of the night. The next day he was able to provide the hospital with funds to purchase more fuel. The hospital needs some 500-600 liters of fuel per day now because the generator is its only source of power, said El-Yousef.

The unsanitary conditions in the streets are also causing illnesses, and El-Yousef said many children are coming to the hospital with cases of malnutrition, diarrhea and fever. The hospital is also treating many of those injured, he said. Other clinics are located in dangerous areas and have been shut down almost from the start of the hostilities, he said.

“It is really desperate,” he said.

Though there are medicines available in Gaza, there is a shortage of medications in the hospitals because people and institutions have used up their credit lines, and cash to purchase them is not available, El-Yousef said. CNEWA has been able to give written financial assurances to the banks, enabling the hospital to make necessary purchases, he said.

“Every day the situation is getting worse and people are reluctant to move outside,” said El-Yousef.

Catholic Relief Services’ country representative in Jerusalem, Matthew McGarry, credited the “heroic” staffers in Gaza for their continued dedication in distributing aid kits to those most in need during lulls in the fighting. Several of the staff members have lost family members, and others are now homeless but have continued to work to provide for others, he said.

“They are a committed, selfless team,” he said. “They are doing God’s work.”

In the last week of July, CRS supplied 500 families with nonfood kits, which included things like cooking sets, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene kits, water storage buckets and solar powered lanterns. Staffers normally would have been able to distribute 500 packages per day but could not because of the precarious situation, McGarry said.

He said CRS was in the process of procuring and distributing another 2,500 such aid packages and was working to get medical relief supplies via the U.S. Agency for International Development.

McGarry said people were desperate, and on 30 July the staff halted distribution when dozens of people who had not been registered came to the distribution point demanding the packages. Their details were taken and CRS will look to see if they fit the CRS criteria: people whose homes have been destroyed and who are not receiving any other assistance, said McGarry.

He said staffers have been able to procure some of the supplies locally, which helps Palestinians, while other supplies came from USAID shipments through the Israeli border, in coordination with Israeli authorities, he said.

“The situation is increasingly desperate and catastrophic,” he said. “The numbers are so huge and the needs so enormous.”

To lend much-needed assistance to the suffering families of Gaza, click here.

Tags: CNEWA Gaza Strip/West Bank Health Care Israeli-Palestinian conflict Relief

15 October 2012
Judith Sudilovsky

Head cook Eva Soudah, left, and dietician Susan Coopersmith discuss the menu in the kitchen of Jerusalem's St. Louis Hospital. (photo: Debbie Hill)

Judith Sudilovsky, a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, continues to share her experiences reporting on the St. Louis hospital for the September 2012 issue of ONE magazine:

“There’s borscht in the kitchen today!” dietician Susan Coopersmith called out gaily to a colleague as she swept through the wide halls of the 130-year-old Catholic St. Louis Hospital, located on the outskirts of Jerusalem’s Old City. “I hope the patients like it!”

It was not exactly the kind of announcement I would have expected at a Catholic hospital, but upon reflection, slipping in a bit of Jewish culinary tradition onto the menu of the 50-bed hospice and chronic care hospital run by the congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition fits right in with their mission to minister loving end-of-life care to all residents of the city — Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

So, while the traditional Jewish-Russian beet soup may seem out of place in most Catholic institutions in the region, its inclusion in the lunch on that day should not have surprised me. After all, after having spent several days visiting I already knew that the most striking thing about St. Louis hospital was how effortlessly they meld so many different cultures, traditions and religions in everything thing do — not always an easy feat in a city so wrought with divisions.

But if in the halls of this hospital, ultra-orthodox Jewish women and Muslim women, with their hair covered in the distinctive style of their religion, walk side by side with habit-wearing nuns and secular Israelis in sleeveless blouses and jeans as they all visit ill or aged loved ones, then why shouldn’t borscht share center stage in the same kitchen with traditional Arabic dishes such as stuffed vegetables?

“We have people here from so many backgrounds it is important to give them foods they like and are familiar with,” explained Coopersmith, a recent Jewish immigrant to Israel from Chicago. Many of the patients in the hospice’s oncology ward are from Russia, she added.

“The food is almost as important as medicine, especially for cancer patients,” she told me. “With chemotherapy treatment they lost much of their sense of taste and can’t eat much. It is very hard to get them to eat.”

Over the past few months, Coopersmith and Palestinian Catholic head cook Eva Soudah, — who oversees the hospital’s kosher kitchen, following Jewish dietary restrictions such as not mixing milk with meat — have been working together along with the Palestinian Muslim assistant cooks to revamp the hospital menu and introduce some new dishes.

Some — stuffed vegetables, ratatouille and spaghetti with tomato sauce — passed the patient’s scrutiny with flying colors, Coopersmith noted. Sweet potatoes and turkey did not. But now it was time for the real test. Would their borscht pass the muster of the discerning Russian patients?

In typical St. Louis fashion, the creation of the soup was a joint collaborative effort involving Jews, Christians and Muslims. I found myself thinking: If only Israeli and Palestinians political leaders could also learn to cooperate just as well for the benefit of others!

The recipe for the soup was provided in Hebrew by the hospital’s Jewish activity director, originally from the Ukraine. Since Soudah speaks only a little bit of Hebrew, the hospital physiotherapist, Basel Baddour, a Greek Orthodox Palestinian who speaks Hebrew, translated the recipe for the Muslim kitchen staff.

I was just as eager as Soudah to see how the patients received her efforts, and I trailed behind Soudah as she brought the lunch cart to the hospice care ward.

“It was not very difficult to make the soup. Just something different,” Soudah smiled, pushing the cart. “There was meat, cabbage onions, carrots, tomato sauce. Now I want to see how the patients inside, the Russians, like it. I want to see if it passes their test.”

“Shalom,” Soudah greeted one of the patients in Hebrew. “How is the soup? We made borscht.”

Dutifully, the woman sipped a spoonful of the hot liquid.

But alas, it seems something got lost in the translation and the main ingredient, the hearty beet that gives the soup its distinctive ruby red color, was missing from the soup.

Still, the patient soothingly told Soudah as she took another taste of the soup: “This is good soup, it just isn’t borscht.”

Once Soudah understood what the missing ingredient was she said, “If you have a recipe you like, bring it to me.”

Undaunted, Soudah told me she will try again next week.

Tags: Jerusalem Unity Health Care Interreligious Multiculturalism

1 October 2012
Judith Sudilovsky

A volunteer jokes with a patient during a holiday party at St. Louis Hospital. (photo: Debbie Hill)

Judith Sudilovsky is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem, covering events in the region for publishers including Catholic News Services and Ecumenical News International. We asked Ms. Sudilovsky to share her thoughts on writing for the September 2012 issue of ONE, and she had this to say:

It has been five years since last I stepped through the doors of the St. Louis Hospital, near the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. But whenever I pass by the hospital doors on my way to one place or another, I recall my experience with this extraordinary place, which provides a haven for end-of-life care patients and their families; it was where my good friend Judy spent her last few months.

I learned about St. Louis Hospital when Judy, a bright, spunky, redheaded New York-born Jew, was hospitalized there toward the end of her battle with a brain tumor. When she wanted to continue working, the staff arranged for an internet connection to be set up in her room. When she missed seeing her dog, they arranged for me to be able to take her to visit him — today the hospital is one of the advanced facilities that allow therapy animals to come to the hospital and visit with the patients who enjoy spending time with them.

A year after Judy finally succumbed to the disease, a group of her friends took up a donation for this hospice and chronic care hospital, which has been run on a shoe-string budget by the congregation of Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition order since 1880.

When she received the checks that I had mailed to her, hospital director Sister Monika Dullmann invited me to come for a modest memorial ceremony she organized together with a few members of the staff who had been especially close to Judy. I was struck by the fact that even a year after her death, the staff that has accompanied so many people at the end of their lives, still sharply recalled Judy’s special optimistic spirit and her lovely sense of humor.

As we lit a memorial candle for Judy that day, I was humbled by the genuine affection I felt in the room for my friend, who had spent only a few short months there. I realized that for them Judy, like all the other countless patients who have passed through this place over the years, remained after her death a unique individual whose life had had worth and significance even in her dying moment.

Since then the hospital has occupied a special place in my heart.

I feel it is only fair to make a public disclaimer about my undeniable bias for the St. Louis Hospital and the staff who do the hardest work with love and respect. These dedicated people — Christians, Muslims and Jews, Palestinians, Israelis and foreign volunteers — who so lovingly cared for Judy, continue caring every day for all their 50 patients in the same fashion, regardless of their national origin, religion or financial status. This article is their story.

Tags: Jerusalem Unity Health Care Multiculturalism